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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 September, 2003, 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK
President Pervez Musharraf answers your questions
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf answered your questions in a special edition of Talking Point as part of our special series on Islam and the West.

  • Transcript


    General Pervez Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

    He has gained foreign acceptance in the West, but has critics at home and in the Arab world, after he backed the US-led campaign against terror.

    The president is now a key ally of Washington and London, providing a bridge between the West and the Muslim world.

    An overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are Muslim - indeed the country was created in 1947 to meet the demands of Indian Muslims for their own homeland.

    However, there are still fierce arguments between moderate and radical Muslims over how the country should be governed.

    Some of Pakistan's religious parties want the country to be a truly Islamic state with laws based on the Koran.

    President Musharraf subscribes to the more popular view of a modern Islamic state, where democratic and Islamic values co-exist.

    However, support for Islamic parties has increased since the war in Afghanistan.

    Legislators in the conservative North West Frontier Province have recently passed a bill introducing Islamic Sharia law.

    This programme will be broadcast on BBC World Service Radio and BBC World Television on Sunday, 14 September at 1500BST / 1400GMT.



    Transcript


    Robin Lustig:

    I'm Robin Lustig, broadcasting on BBC World on television, BBC World service on radio and BBC News Online on the internet. Two years after the September 11th attacks in America, relations between the West and the Islamic world are still in turmoil. To many people in the West, Muslims seem to represent a threat - the words Islam and terrorism seem too often to go together. To many Muslims, the West is an arrogant bully, seeking to impose its values on them and refusing to recognise their needs and their traditions.

    Our guest on Talking Point today is a man who bridges these two worlds: President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. He came to power in a military coup in 1999; after the September 11th attacks, he became a crucial ally to the US in its war against the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. President Musharraf joins us from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, for a programme that forms part of a BBC series in which we're bringing together world leaders and experts to discuss the changing relationship between the West and the Muslim world.

    President Musharraf thank you very much for joining us on the programme today, we appreciate your time. We're talking on the exact anniversary of those September 11th attacks and I wonder if I could ask you first of all how you think the relationship between the West and the Islamic world has changed in these two years. And it's a question that's reflected in fact in an e-mail that we've had from Lahore, Kashif, has written to ask you: Do you believe that Pakistan's role in the war against terrorism has reduced the differences between Islam and the West?

    We talking on the Kashif, Lahore, Pakistan: Do you believe that Pakistan's role in the war against terrorism has reduced the differences between Islam and West?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Well certainly the change has taken - a very major change has taken place and may I also add that a major change to the worse has taken place, the relations have worsened. Therefore the requirement, certainly of the world to address this issue of the worsening relations between the West and the world of the Islam as far as we are concerned, the second part of your question - whether Pakistan's role has bridged this gap - well we are trying to bridge it. I think there's a bigger issue involved which doesn't involves Pakistan all alone but the role of the entire Islamic world and also within the entire world itself - the community of nations. It has to be addressed at a much higher and bigger level.


    Robin Lustig:

    There's been a very direct reminder of those events of two years ago with the release of this new video tape, which appears to show Osama bin Laden and his right hand man, somewhere, either in Afghanistan or perhaps in Pakistan. And this tape talks very directly of you - calling you a traitor and calling on the people of Pakistan to rise up against you. How do you react to that?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Very strongly. I have to react to it very strongly. The people who know the facts on the ground, those who are involved in the whatever is happening in Afghanistan, Lahore and Pakistan, in our border areas, they know the realities and when I say people, various agencies, the military of the United States forces operating in Afghanistan, the ISAF forces operating there, all of them know what Pakistan is doing and what I am doing. Such statements are given by people who are not in the real picture and they are guessing and they are just estimating whatever is happening around, they don't have the real facts, they don't know real facts.


    Robin Lustig:

    But do you see the release of this tape as evidence that Osama bin Laden is indeed still alive and apparently well? Do you think he's in Afghanistan or do you think he's in Pakistan?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Well this is a question which has been asked umpteen number of times. I feel that he is alive, yes, because of the various information and intelligence that has come up now. But to guess whether he's in Pakistan or in Afghanistan, the possibility exists that he is shifting places, shifting bases on both sides. That is the reality.


    Robin Lustig:

    You can't rule out the possibility that he is in fact, or has been in Pakistan?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    One can't rule it out because certainly I cannot claim that the forces dominate every inch of territory. This is an inhospitable area in our tribal area which has been accessed or we have gone inside now, after a century, and therefore to presume that we have knowledge of every inch of the territory and who is in it is not on and therefore I say I cannot really be very sure whether he's in Pakistan or the Afghan side.


    Robin Lustig:

    Do you think he'll ever be caught?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Well your guess will be as good or as bad as mine. We are trying our best.


    Robin Lustig:

    Let's take our first call then Uzair Aziz Dawood in on the line from Dubai, UAE. What was your question.


    Uzair Aziz Dawood :

    Mr President nice to having the opportunity to talk to you. I'm from Karachi. My question to you is how do you as a realistic leader expect to bridge the ever deepening differences between the fiercely angry Islamic world and the West? Whereby the Islamic world views America and the West as imperialist regimes trying to suppress Islamic propagation and values. Whereas the West undoubtedly considers every practising Muslim and freedom fighter as extremist.


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Yes. Well the answer - I would like to give an answer, this is a very important question. The issue as you have said yourself is that at the moment the difference has become so large that the Islamic world thinks that the West is targeting Islam as a religion, while the West thinks that Islam as a religion is a religion of extremism and intolerance and confrontation. Now we have to realise - the whole world has to understand that the world has become a very dangerous place to live in and therefore we need to bring about a change.

    And my theory, as I always have been saying, is a two prong strategy required to be executed. One of the prongs of this strategy is to be executed by the Islamic world, in that we have to crystallise our thoughts, we have to decide whether the way forward is a way of confrontation, extremism, militancy. Or the way forward is one of human development, of emancipation of the Muslim world, which is the worst off at the moment in all social indicators.

    Certainly the way forward is one, as I call it, enlightened moderation. Now this is what we need to analyse in the Islamic world and adopt the course of enlightened moderation. On the other hand the single strategy of only to be executed by the Islamic world will not work. Therefore, the West has to deliver the other prong of the strategy. And the second prong that has to be delivered by the West, may I say, is that all political disputes, all of them involve Muslims unfortunately and Muslims seem to be on the receiving end of all of them, they must be resolved with justice and this justice needs to be seen to be done by the Muslim world. This is one.

    And secondly, I would urge the West to assist the Muslim world in poverty alleviation and education. Because this gives rise to extremism. So therefore having addressed political disputes, poverty and education we would be addressing the core issue which leads to extremism, fundamentalism and militancy. But this is a two pronged strategy, I think it was a long answer but this question that you asked was very important, this is what I think ought to be done by the whole world.


    Robin Lustig:

    Thank you for that Mr President. Our next caller is Richard Davis who's in Lincoln, here in England, Richard hello.


    Richard Davis

    Hello Mr President. My question is: do you accept that radical Islamic parties in your country will continue to gain support as long as there are American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and how do you plan on tackling this problem?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    We have to tackle the problem in a democratic and constitutional manner and I don't agree with this statement that extremist militant forces will keep gaining strength as long as the foreign forces are in Afghanistan. That is not the reality. Afghanistan alone is not the issue. The issue is Iraq also now and the Palestinian issue, where on the television you see a tussle between David and Goliath where tanks and guns are being faced by stone-throwing individuals. So therefore the issue is much larger than Afghanistan.

    And I certainly believe that Pakistan is a moderate, progressive, enlightened Islamic state. The vast majority of Pakistanis believe in an enlightened vision of Islam, they are not at all extremist in their views. So therefore what you see on the television in your country probably are only the extremists which are - who are in very small number. Unfortunately when you see on television one gets an impression that the whole of Pakistan is extremist in nature, that is not the reality. Anyone who comes to Pakistan and sees for himself realises that the reality is very, very different from the perceptions that are being created on the television screens. And that is what I would urge you to come and see also. I am firmly convinced that extremism - extremist forces do not - will not rise in Pakistan and do not have a future in Pakistan.


    Robin Lustig:

    But do you say, Mr President, that there is no connection between Islamist extremism and the presence of foreign forces in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Well certainly there is a connection which has been found also and we need to break such connections. As I said, that long answer that I gave of the strategy forward. Now if we - when we deal with al-Qaeda and we're talking of Taleban and we are talking of getting hold of 400-500 al-Qaeda members this is an issue, this is a short term strategy but unless we implement or we put on the ground a long term strategy, which I explained - two pronged strategy that I spoke of, we are not going to end up with success.

    I think what is the requirement is - yes there is a linkage, certainly, of extremist elements around the world. This linkage will be reduced and finished when we have a short term strategy - that is what we are executing already - moving strongly against terrorism anywhere. And secondly, also, putting in place the long term strategy, which I spoke of, political disputes and human resource development, emphasising on the social sector, not only in the Muslim world but also in other parts of the world.


    Robin Lustig:

    Okay, I'd like to read you an e-mail which has come in from San Diego in California from John Jackson, he says: It has been widely reported that Al Qaeda and Taliban elements are using Pakistan as a base from which to attack coalition forces in Afghanistan. What will you do to stop this lawlessness?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Yes, this is an accusation being hurled against Pakistan by vested interests. Now this is absolutely untrue. One is - or shall I say it's partially true - one can't deny, I will be the last person to deny that nothing is happening in the tribal areas of our borders with Afghanistan. Certainly there are elements who may be hiding there and certainly there are abettors who sympathise with them. And we have to move against them, we are moving against them. We are moving against them in that we have created an intelligence organisation now. It is fairly strong and capable with technological means of location and confirmation of extremist elements.

    Together with this intelligence what was required was a quick reaction force, a force - a hard hitting, quick reaction force, which we have created now. So therefore on our side of the border we are very effectively on ground with intelligence organisations set up, having access into all the entire tribal belt of Pakistan. And a very effective quick reaction force available. So we can act now on intelligence which we get.So certainly there's things happening on our border and we will act against them, as I said, and our forces are fully capable of doing that. Now to accuse Pakistan that all that is happening in Afghanistan is only from the Pakistan side is absolutely baseless.

    Now Afghanistan also has a void, there's a vacuum, in the countryside and the terrain is equally inhospitable as ours. So therefore very easily people can operate, extremists can operate, from the Afghan side also. Why would there be - all of them be coming on to the Pakistan side? They can easily hide on the Afghan side.

    So therefore, in conclusion, I would like to say a balanced view, which I - and the factual view, with full conviction I can say on both sides of the border there are places which can be utilised as sanctuaries by extremists and therefore we need to act on both sides of the border: Pakistan on our side and ISAF forces, Afghan forces, US forces on the Afghan side. And that is what we are doing.

    I think we should stop accusing each other and realise what the reality on the ground are. The forces who are operating there know the realities on the ground. It's only those who don't know the realities on the ground that cast such aspersions on Pakistan as if everything is happening from the Pakistan side. There are vested interests also. We know the enemies of Pakistan who try to project this and project Pakistan's actions, Pakistan's efforts in a bad light as if we are supporting and everything - extremism here.

    We have done so much that nobody in the world has done that much. So therefore I think it's very unkind remarks if anyone thinks that everything is happening from Pakistan and we are lying dormant and not acting against them. We are acting against them, we will act against terrorism all the way and these perceptions need to be corrected by the media.


    Robin Lustig:

    Okay. Our next call is Aristides Garcia who is in Amsterdam in the Nertherlands. Aristides, hello.


    Aristides Garcia:

    Good morning sir, I would like to ask you one - two questions actually. The first one has to do with the fact that as far as I remember you were the only country that recognised the Taleban regime in Afghanistan. When the US went after this government you immediately declared yourself a supporter of the war against terror. And my question is - was this a decision based on principle or a business transaction?


    Robin Lustig:

    Let's stay with the first question Aristides. Mr President.


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Yes indeed, I think you must realise that nations have policies in accordance with ground realities. Now when you talk of Pakistan having recognised the Taleban - yes indeed, we had recognised the Taleban. They were in occupation of 90% of Afghanistan and also they were ethnically Pashtuns. The only Pashtun representatives in Afghanistan were Taleban at that time. Now Pakistan itself ethnically has a Pashtun population here, therefore it was the strategic compulsion of Pakistan, diplomatic compulsion of Pakistan, to recognise the Taleban government in Afghanistan. And I do not at all - I've been talking a lot against the previous governments for all that they did against Pakistan, our own governments, but I will never say anything against their recognition of the Taleban government, that was the dictate of the time.

    However, when you have diplomatic relations with a country or a regime that doesn't mean that you are totally in consonance with their views. We have diplomatic relations with India, that doesn't mean that we have got the best of relations with them. So when we had recognised the Taleban we knew their weaknesses, we were never in favour and we never had consonance of views on their version of Islam even.

    So therefore while we had recognised them, yes we had diplomatic relations with them, that was the compulsion, but we had totally different views on the perceptions of Islam, our religion, because we knew that they were projecting a very backward image of Islam as a religion. So therefore when a change occurred, when the ISAF forces or US forces came and operated there certainly we changed our stance. I think it was a very logical process that we followed.


    Robin Lustig:

    But the question, Mr President, is why did you change your stance at that point? The question is was it because you were offered considerable financial inducements by the United States or was it because you decided for another reason that that was the right thing to do?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    No there were no financial inducements offered on our policy change on Afghanistan. Certainly it was a matter of principle. We never agreed, first of all, with their views of Islam, with their projection of Islam that they had, with their understanding of Islam that they had. That was an extremist view and we were never - I think the vast majority, as I said, in Pakistan were against that view. Therefore, the shift was very easy and I knew for sure that the whole of the Pakistan nation, the vast majority, will support this shift and that is exactly - it was proved right, whatever I thought. Now it was a matter of principle and a matter of policy dictate that we followed.


    Robin Lustig:

    I'm going to read you an e-mail Mr President that's come from Berlin in Germany from Graeme Phillips who writes: In the invasion of Afghanistan, the US forces were hindered in their quest to root out Islamic militants by the fact that militants were going across the border into Pakistan and you wouldn't let them in to root them out. What do you plan to do to increase cooperation in the future?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Well I gave a part of the answer I gave to think that everyone was coming into Pakistan and therefore the rooting out of extremism from Afghanistan was hindered is absolutely baseless. However, having said that I do admit and I have admitted that the border is extremely porous, this border is extremely inhospitable, anyone has to come and see this border to realise that. It is similar to the border that we have in Kashmir with India, 700,000 Indian troops have not been able to seal the border. So therefore I cannot at all claim that I can seal the entire border where one individual cannot come across the border. So therefore while the possibility of their coming across the border, some of them coming across the border, was certainly there but this is not at all the reason for a failure of rooting out extremism from Afghanistan.

    The other part of the point that you made was our not allowing the US forces coming across. No sir we do not allow any foreign forces to operate on our side of the border. We've got a strong army, we've got a very strong armed forces. We have an intelligence set up, as I said, and a quick reaction force. Our forces are fully capable of dealing with anything that happens on our side of the border, therefore there is no requirement whatsoever of any foreign forces operating in Pakistan.

    As I said we have to develop trust, mutual trust in what we are doing and we have proved this through our action. We will operate on our side of the border against all terrorist organisations, we are doing that and we don't need anybody else to come. As I said this organisation, the intelligence organisation, and the quick reaction force as it matures, as it operates more frequently I'm sure it will meet more successes and that is the way forward which we have adopted and is the right way forward.


    Robin Lustig:

    We're going to take a call from from South Africa - Abraham Louw, calls from Sasolburg. Abraham hello.


    Abraham Louw:

    Good day Mr President. I have a question but I think you've already answered this. My question is this: would Pakistan have allowed the US to use their country to launch an attack on Afghanistan if there was no financial benefit to Pakistan?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Yes - we did allow a certain - we allowed use of our air space, we allowed use of two of our air bases for only logistic support and for any aircraft in disaster - they could land there. Other than that we agreed to cooperate on the intelligence and information side. So this was the entire package that we allowed.

    Now to deal with it on terms of what we get financially, we did not do that at all at that time. But may I say after that, certainly there was financial advantages that accrued to Pakistan through financial assistance from the United States, through our debt relief and debt write-off from many Western countries, especially from the Paris Club, which includes Japan. So therefore we have benefited tremendously through whatever has happened, we've benefited economically and financially tremendously but it was not as a deal or as a package when things started happening in Afghanistan. I would say it wasn't done so crudely.


    Robin Lustig:

    Thank you for that. Our next caller is Syed Faisal Zyeem who is in Karachi, Pakistan. Syed hello.


    Syed Faisal Zyeem:

    Good afternoon. My question is concerning the sectarian killings in Pakistan. Why has the government been unable to stop it? It seems that every couple of months there will be a killing, there will be an uproar about the killings and then things get silenced again. Why is the government unable to control these killings?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Yes I mean government is - you're speaking from Karachi you said, right - our government is unable to control the killings - the sectarian killings - I wish one could. No country in the world can - is Israel able to control the suicide bombers? If a person is prepared to take the risk of killing one individual on the street I mean there is no - no law enforcement agency in the world will be able to guarantee total safety of all its people. I mean let's not be very unfair.

    But the reality that you must understand that all the big criminals who are involved in sectarian killings have been apprehended, they are behind bars or they have been killed and eliminated. All the militant organisations have been banned and their offices sealed and they are under total check. However, one should never expect that this would mean that one - not one man will be killed anywhere in Pakistan. You must please realise the reality of the situation. As I said nobody - no law enforcement agency of the world can ensure a hundred per cent guarantee against an individual who is prepared to shoot a man in the street.

    So while a lot is being done, we are trying to improve our law enforcement agencies, we are trying to improve our intelligence set up. We have introduced a new anti-terrorist organisation in all the provinces, so we are taking measures to control and check but the population must realise that hundred per cent guarantees will not be possible anywhere in the world.


    Robin Lustig:

    I should say President Musharraf that this is a concern that extends far beyond Karachi. We've had an e-mail from Australia, Soundra Lawrence in Sydney wrote to us to say: There have been several attacks on Christians in your country, unfortunately we have not heard anything substantial done about it by your government or the security apparatus. How can you stem this? You say do you, that steps are being taken?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    I think this is a most unfair comment that we haven't done anything. First of all attacks on Christians in Pakistan never happened before, they only happened in about roughly about one year or not even one year, six to eight months or ten months duration with some churches, schools of Christians and hospitals of Christians were attacked. They were a fallout of whatever is happening around the world - Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine. Now that happened. This happened only in a period of 10 months.

    And let me say that each and every individual who was involved has been arrested or killed. So this is a most unfair comment by the gentleman from Sydney that nothing has happened, we haven't done anything. Other than that, after that, not a single action has been taken against any of the minorities. I don't know whether the gentleman has asked whether in India, 3,000 Muslims were killed, are they asking anything about that? I think this is a most unfair comment. And by the way nothing has happened there. Missionaries have been killed in India also, Muslims have been killed - Sikhs have been killed. But they are the most democratic and the most secular state that the world recognises. While here, a couple of people killed and there is a UN cry that Pakistan is not doing anything to protect its minorities. I think this is a most unfair comment and I don't accept it at all.


    Robin Lustig:

    I can assure you Mr President if we have an opportunity to talk to the Prime Minister of India we will put similar questions to him. Let's now move from Australia to Singapore, Imran Malik is on the line from there, Imran hello.


    Imran Malik:

    Hello. First of all we're very grateful some of the things that you've done for the country. My question today is pretty much in line with the discussion that you've been having. What I would like to know is what long term steps are you taking to check extremism in the country in general? I'm particularly interested in some of the things that you're doing to check this in the armed forces. Thank you.


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Yes what we are doing, first part of your question, to check extremism in Pakistan. We have already banned the extremist organisations. But yes I will not at all say that there is no extremism in Pakistan, there is. We have created an anti-terrorist organisation, as I said. We have refined our intelligence set up, we are improving our law enforcement agencies because these are the ones who are going to act against them. It is the intelligence set up which should pre-empt any extremist acts, which should inform us of any extremist acts before it has acted, this is what we are trying to do. Then we have to have law enforcement agencies to move against them.

    We are improving our investigative agencies so that after the commitment of crime we are able to get to the criminal. All this we are already doing. We are establishing forensic laboratories in the country. So as I said the three stages of dealing with extremism - number one, pre-empting it through a good intelligence network; number two, acting against it while it is happening through effective law enforcement agencies; number three, getting to the criminal after the act is committed. We are addressing all these issues but we are to be patient, it can't be done overnight because there are extremists who are operating. Now so this is exactly what we are doing.


    Robin Lustig:

    And what do you say specifically on the issue of extremism which is alleged also to exist within the armed forces?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Yes sorry I forget that part. Within the armed forces, now this is an absolute misperception. Extremism does not exist in the armed forces of Pakistan. I have served 40 years in this army and there is no extremism in the armed forces of Pakistan. I think one has to differentiate between a person who's religious and a person who's extremist. Unfortunately many people confuse a man who's religious, who abides by the rituals of Islam - he prays, he fasts, he goes for hadj - so he performs all the religious rituals - he's not an extremist. So while we in Pakistan are religious - and this is an Islamic state - we are not extremists.

    And similar is the situation in the army, in the armed forces, nobody in the armed forces, there are very, very few, who till now who have been unearthed to be extremists. And we have acted very strongly against them. So therefore extremism is not at all there in the armed forces, this is a total misperception.


    Robin Lustig:

    We're going to take a call from India, Ashutosh Pandey is on the line from Dehli. Ashutosh hello.


    Ashutosh Pandey:

    Good afternoon sir. My question is, in India, at least the educated class, they think you take a strong stand against Islamic fundamentalism but could it be possible for you to put some restriction on Islamic schools as these are breeding grounds of Islamic fundamentalists? Can you emulate what was done by Kamal Ataturk in Turkey where students in Pakistan could pursue more constructive careers rather than follow the path Islamic fundamentalism?


    Robin Lustig:

    I should say Mr President this is an issue on which we've had a great number of e-mails as well - the situation of the Islamic schools and the madrasas in Pakistan.


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Yes indeed I think this is an important question. Now but to equate what Kamal Ataturk did in Turkey, he did in Turkey, according to Turkey's environment. Now we can't impose what he did into Pakistan. You spoke from India, what can be done in India is different, what can be done in Pakistan is very different and what can be done in Turkey is very different. So now let's confine ourselves to what can be done in Pakistan.

    Yes this issue of madrasas is a very important issue. I've been saying that we are addressing the issue of terrorism in three dimensions. We are operating against al-Qaeda; we are operating against the Taleban and we are also operating against sectarian and religious extremism in Pakistan. Sectarian and religious extremism comes or is born through the extremist elements in some of the madrasas - not all of them - where they teach extremist acts to them. And also in some of the mosques, which are misused by some extremist elements, to spread hatred against other sectarian - against other sects.

    Now we are taking action against both these. As far as madrasas are concerned, we've evolved a madrasas strategy, wherein we are asking madrasas to get registered and we are telling them to teach four other subjects as required by the normal education boards in our country, other than religious education. And my I say that we are meeting a lot of success. Out of about 7,000 madrasas that roughly exist in Pakistan, may I tell you that almost about 2,000 have registered and they are prepared to teach those subjects, but it is easier said than done. We need to develop their capacity, we need to educate their teachers to teach those subjects, we need to put in a lot of financial inputs so that they can afford the teachers that are required to teach those subjects.

    So we are addressing this issue of madrasas - moderation in the madrasas - taking them away from extremism, sectarian extremism, right at the foundation. And I think we are meeting success. That is the strategy, there's no short cut to it. We cannot close down everything and this is certainly - when you attach this action with what Kamal Ataturk did in Turkey. He did not act against madrasas - the environment was not at all the same as what is in Pakistan - so this is what we are doing. And we are also using the government machinery down to the local government level to ensure that the mosques and the madrasas are not misused by anyone to spread sectarian hatred. And this is what we are doing and I'm sure we'll meet success.


    Robin Lustig:

    I'd like to put to you a question that's come to us in an e-mail from Singapore. Sanjay Jalali, has written to ask: Do you support sharia law? Is sharia compatible with human rights resolutions passed by the United Nations? If a woman is convicted of adultery in a sharia court, would you support a sentence of stoning?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Well first of all sharia. Now I think this is quite a misunderstood issue. Our constitution lays down that no law can be enacted which is repugnant to Koran, our religious book, and the Sunna. So therefore within Pakistan constitutionally any un-Islamic act against the Koran and the Sunna cannot be enacted - and this is the law. So therefore when we talk of sharia really, sharia is the same - this is what is the basis or the essence of sharia is exactly similar - that no law repugnant to Islam can be enacted. So anyone who's trying to impose sharia I would say sharia in its main essence is already embedded in the constitution of Pakistan. However, if somebody, in the garb of sharia, is trying to include extremist acts, extremist views of control on dresses, control on education, control on certain laws against women - certainly we need to be conscious because that is not - repeat not - according to Islamic teaching, according to our religion. Those are extremist views which we need to control. That is what I would like to say. And certainly in Pakistan never has any women been stoned to death and this will never be done in the future.


    Robin Lustig:

    It is, as you know, President Musharraf an issue which creates a lot of controversy in many different parts of the world. One of them is Nigeria, in fact we have a caller on the line from Nigeria, Niyi Olaloku in Lagos. Niyi you wanted to ask about sharia as well didn't you?


    Niyi Olaloku:

    Yes thank you very much. In addition to what has already been said your Excellency - nice to have you on this programme, it's a privilege. I'd just like to say - what advice do you have for our government, given the controversy this sharia issue has generated and detentions and violence over the past four years? Secondly, I would like to ask in an Islamic state that is trying to be modern, like you're doing in Pakistan, how do you balance this with the issue of westernisation - I mean strike a balance between being modern and not being totally Western, which I feel is part of the concern the extremists have?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    As far as what advice that I would like to give to your government, I don't want to give any advice to your government, your government is very capable, the Nigerian government, is very capable of addressing issues because certainly I'm not very clear on your environment. And as I said every environment is different. You need to take action according to your own environment.

    But now coming to your main question. I think somehow we are confused about Islam, about sharia, and how it relates to modernism, how it related to secularism, how it relates to democracy. I think let's not be confused about it. Let me say that Islam, in its concept, is the most democratic religion. Islam believes in equal rights to people, it believes in human rights, it makes no differentiation between religion, colour, creed, it believes in human rights. It believes in taking decisions through consensus. An Arabic word of - ijtihad - is one of the basic principles embedded in Islam, that is through consensus. So therefore Islam in principle is extremely democratic and extremely secular I would say.

    So therefore any Islamic country or Muslim state does not have to go around calling itself secular because secularism and democracy is embedded in the principles of Islam. We must understand that. So therefore it is only those who don't understand Islam, who belittle this great religion of ours, who don't realise what is the greatness in this religion, who talk about these differentiations. So when I say I am and we are an Islamic republic of Pakistan I strongly believe that we are most democratic and we believe in human rights, we believe in equality of human beings here and giving rights - equal rights to the minorities in Pakistan. All this is embedded in our religion Islam.

    May I also add that further greatness of Islam is that there is limits to power, Islam limits power. There cannot be unlimited power in anyone. Therefore, it is more democratic I would say, it is more socially correct. So therefore Islam is a great religion and as we say there is a difference so let me add - Islam is not a religion, it's a way of life. It gives guidance on all issues which I have been speaking of.

    So let me again sum up by saying that when we say that a country is Islamic and a Muslim state, we don't have to really bother about defining that we are secular or we are democratic - we mean that we are secular, we mean that we are democratic.


    Robin Lustig:

    Let me just go back to Niyi in Lagos. Obviously these issues are very much real issues in Nigeria as well Niyi. What do you make of what President Musharraf said on that?


    Niyi Olaloku:

    I agree totally because he said the principle - Islam stands for democracy and secularism but I guess it's an issue of interpretation and application. For example in Nigeria, Nigeria has been independent close to 40 years now, and just recently - four years ago - the issue of sharia became a burning issue. It was more political than really religious because I have friends in the north and I asked them about sharia and they tell me it's not an issue to them and it's not really a big deal so to speak. But it's more a political undertone underlying the hype and all the imposition on people - it's not really the way to go. So I begin to ask myself if Islam stands for consensus, for democracy, there's something wrong, the leaders are just trying to use it for their own political ends and I get confused.


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    I would like to add here, may I because this is an important issue, although there's no question but two things that I want to say. When I said that Islam is more democratic than democracy, in the social justice that it ensures that powers are limited, no person can be - can go beyond certain powers, beyond certain riches even. So therefore there is more social justice in Islam.

    The other point that I want to make and this is on the comments that the gentleman again made. That unfortunately what I'm saying is the real value of Islam. It is certain uneducated elements, the projection of Islam unfortunately, the practice of Islam is at variance from these realities. So therefore we need to project the right image of Islam, which is not being done. So therefore what the world sees in practical shape is very different to what actually Islam is.

    So we need to bridge this as Muslims, I personally feel the Muslim world and the Muslim religious scholars owe it to the greatness of Islam to make the Muslim world, first of all, act in accordance with the dictates of Islam - the real dictates, the real values of Islam - and project these real values outside in the practical shape of its application in all the countries. I can tell you the confusion arises because what is actually the value of Islam is maybe not being practised by extremists - the extremists are projecting it in a different light.


    Robin Lustig:

    Well here's a very practical question for you Mr President, it comes from the United States from Farooq Ibrahim, who says: I am an apostate from Islam and desire to visit my home country of Pakistan. What sort of security and protection can there be for me and my family when we visit Pakistan. I fear for my life and those with me.


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    I think if his home state is Pakistan and he wants to come back to Pakistan and he's talking of all this - maybe he has never come to Pakistan. I take it for granted that it's the first time he's coming back to his country.


    Robin Lustig:

    Why do you say that?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Because he says that I want to come back to my country, so that means he has never come back to the country until now, that is what I presume.


    Robin Lustig:

    The issue is really as somebody who describes himself as an apostate from Islam can he be confident that he would be safe in Pakistan?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Let's come to the main thing whether he comes for the first time or not. Now he needs to come and see the environment of Pakistan. There are no bullets flying around and bombs exploding everywhere. This is the unfortunate perception which is so far from reality. Whoever comes here, any western person from the West - I've met so many, so many delegations who come here - from the United States, from the West - and they all invariably say that we didn't know that the environment here is so good.

    I mean it's unfortunate that the perception of Pakistan abroad is so bad and the reality is so different here. I would tell this gentleman you must come back to your country and see for yourself, have confidence in your country. Unfortunately there are people who lack that confidence in their own country. You must have confidence in your own country, that we have all the resources to run a country very well. We are a safe country, we are a progressive dynamic nation which is on the rise. Please have this confidence, come back to Pakistan and see for yourself.


    Robin Lustig:

    We'd better take another call. Majid Hussain is here in London. Majid hello.


    Majid Hussain:

    Hello good morning. Good morning Mr Musharraf.


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Yes, good morning, how are you?


    Majid Hussain:

    I'm very well. I would like to ask you - since an increasing number of Muslims in Pakistan have seen what sham democracy and real democracy have brought to the nation in terms of further corruption and mismanagement of their affairs, there's now a greater desire for the establishment of the Khilafah political system or Islamic state with strong support for many political parties such as Hisb-ul-Tehreer, the Islamic Liberation party, can you see an emergence of the Khilafah system in Pakistan? And additionally to that point does the recent crackdown in the armed forces, does this show that Islam is gaining ground and in fact you cannot trust anyone anymore since even your own generals do not support you anymore?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Majid before I get the President's response to that you'd better explain for those viewers and listeners who don't know what a Khalifah system is exactly what it entails.


    Majid Hussain:

    It's the political system of Islam, the Islamic state generally referred to, which existed up until 1924 which the President refers to as Kamla Ataturk who dismantled that. So the political system of Islam which lasted for over a thousand years.


    Robin Lustig:

    Okay thank you. President Musharraf.


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Okay. No I would like to clarify the clarification that he's given of Khilafat. Khilafat existed in the earlier stages of Islam, when the four caliphs ruled Islam and spread Islam. That was the real Khilafat. And when people talk of going back to Khilafat they're talking of that Khilafat or the first four caliphs of Islam. They're not talking of the Khilafat of the Ottoman Empire and all that because they were - that was not ruling the whole world, there were Islamic countries other than under the Ottoman Empire.

    So I would say that there's no chance of going back to Khilafat really. Khilafat requires certain environment in a country. It demands a lot from the nation, from the government. It demands that everyone, the entire country - its masses, its people - should have social justice. They must have at least the minimum requirements that are required of life, they must not be wanting in food, shelter at the minimum.

    So these have not been fulfilled by any of the Islamic states, I would say, for all its population. So therefore imposing the Khilafat then the entire environment has not been created for it, is totally a Utopian idea. We cannot go back to Khilafat unless we've created a certain environment. And now we are living in the 21st Century, after all what was Khilafat? Khilafat ensured social justice and equality, freedom to the people. And now in this 21st Century through a democratic dispensation you can achieve the same goals, you are moving towards what the caliphs did in the earlier part of the Muslim era. So therefore I think there is no such thing as going back in the 21st Century - the environment is not at all available to go back to Khilafat.

    Then the other part - this is an extreme view that the gentleman took that the army - the crackdown in the army, there are just about three people who were arrested and interrogated because their affiliation may be - they are backing certain extremist al-Qaeda elements who have been taken and they are under interrogation. This army is an army of 500,000 by the way and such things keep happening, they were happening even much before al-Qaeda, some extremist elements, often are emerging and we used to interrogate and take military action against them.

    Now based on this saying that none of the generals is with me, I must be the poorest commander if none of my generals are with me. I've spent 40 years in this uniform and I'm proud to say that I've always commanded from the front. I have been in the front and I have always commanded from the front. I have led from the front through personal example. And let me tell you all my commanders are with me totally - every general is with me, every man down to the sepoy is with me and behind me - let me assure you that. There should be no such misperception that anyone is against me.


    Robin Lustig:

    There is an e-mail I'd like to read you Mr President from New York, it comes Amber Hameed who asks: Why is it that crimes against women in Pakistan have not decreased since you took office? Is it because you are afraid of the radical Mullahs in the government who want to impose Islam on people, especially Pakistani women?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Not at all, I wouldn't that it has decreased. I don't know, I've no way of judging. I would say my estimate is yes, neither has it increased nor has it decreased, it is at the same level. However, the question is not of my being afraid. I would like to act against anyone who perpetuates any crime against women, really. But I cannot do it myself, I need certain law enforcement agencies, I bank on the judiciary of Pakistan. Now that is where the problem arises - it's the law enforcement agencies, the administrative set up, the judiciary which needs to deal with cases where such actions - such violence has been perpetrated against a woman, that is where the problem is. The problem is not with me - that I am not scared of anyone.So therefore it's not the question of whether I am scared or not, I'm not scared. We have laws in place, those laws have to be implemented. Unfortunately, it's the implementation part which is faltering and that is being improved, we are trying to improve it.

    Now what we have done really, what I have done, what my government has done, we have empowered women - that is the root to their salvation, the root to their emancipation. Let us empower the women. And we have done that through the political system in that we have ensured - we have given one third of the seats at the local government level to the women of Pakistan. And similarly at the national assembly there are 20% seats to them. At the moment there are 72 women sitting at our national assembly out of a total of 342. And let me tell you for your information, 44,000 women today are holding political offices at various tiers of the political government and this may be an example for the whole world. This is empowering. Now having empowered them they, I'm sure, will ensure their own emancipation, their own protection, they must do it and I encourage them to do it. This is what we are doing and this is the future.


    Robin Lustig:

    But on the issue specifically of violence against women in Pakistan you are saying that it's because the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary are not vigorous enough in applying the existing laws that these attacks are continuing at the rate that they are?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Yes they are not vigorous enough, they ought to be more vigorous. And secondly it's a mindset you see, this is a feudal society - feudal environment - that we are dealing with. We need to educate our masses more. We need to address all the social sectors. And through that the route forward - it's a changing of mindsets, it's a changing of the minds of the thought process of people who think that male members - I would say that it's a male chauvinistic society. I wouldn't say that it's only in Pakistan, it's in all developing countries of the world, so we are not the only ones. We are afflicted by the same problem of a mindset of a male dominated society. We need to remove it through empowerment of women, we need to remove it through better education and addressing the social sector. I mean this is the only way forward.


    Robin Lustig:

    I want to read you this e-mail if I may Mr President, it's on a topical issue. It comes from here in London from Ghazanfar Iqbal who says: Recent comments by the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and his Indian counterpart Mr Vajpayee confirm they are pressing for an anti-Muslim alliance with the USA. What do you plan to do in response? Is it time to build a Muslim military/political alliance to counter this?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    No, no not at all. I don't think they are meaning to create an anti-Muslim alliance. And if they are in Israel and United States are doing that it's extremely sad I would say. But if they are trying to unite to create an anti-Muslim military alliance it's the saddest day in the history of the world. I think this ought not to be done and I don't think Israel and the United States is doing that at all.

    Now whether you are saying whether we would like to counter it with a Muslim military alliance - not at all, I think what we are trying to do is to bring this two pronged strategy that I spoke of, that is the route forward and that is the part that we would like to take.


    Robin Lustig:

    Do you believe though Mr President that the visit to India by the Israeli prime minister is potentially threatening to Pakistan's interests?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    Well it's extremely - the people here are taking it very seriously. We are watching whatever is happening and whatever statements are coming from across the border and I think it's a very sensitive issue. I only hope that the leadership in Israel, Prime Minister Sharon, understands the sensitivity of Pakistan to whatever happens between Israel and India. And I hope he is statesman enough to understand the sensitivities of Pakistan and take all measures to address our sensitivity and maintain a degree of balance in relationships.


    Robin Lustig:

    We're nearly at the end of the programme Mr President. I just want to return to the way in which we started. We started by talking about the relationship between Islam and the West, you've spoken a great deal about Islam and change Islam and modernity. Do you believe that the tension is actually more between Islam and modernity than it is between Islam and the West?


    President Pervez Musharraf:

    I think in Islam we believe in balance. Islam is a religion that believes in balance. I think while we would not like to be westernised, we certainly ought to be modernised. We ought to have a modern approach to development, modern approach to progress and enlightenment. But certainly we would not like to be westernised.

    We would like to learn from the West but we have our own social compulsions, our own social guidelines which we would like to adhere to. And these social guidelines are very balanced guidelines and I think they are right, they are correct, and that is what every Muslim wants to follow. We would like to follow our own Islamic social code and not give them up for westernisation. And if you are calling modernism as westernism, yes I would like to differentiate, we would not like to go on to the social westernisation. We would like to address all issues in a modern way. I don't see a conflict.


    Robin Lustig:

    And on that note we must end because we have run out of time. President Musharraf thank you very much indeed for being with us on the programme. Thanks to all of you who have been part of this programme. Don't forget you can keep sending us your e-mails to talkingpoint@bbc.co.uk. And you can visit our special website at bbcnews.com/Islam, where you can watch or listen again to this programme, and contribute to our debates on Islam. There'll be more programmes on related topics over the coming weeks, so try not to miss them. But for now, from me Robin Lustig, Goodbye.





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